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El Cerrito vice principals Jay Elvrin (left) and Eric Mapes (right) chat during a break between interviews.

WCCUSD hosts recruitment fair to find teachers

on February 5, 2019

On a rainy Saturday morning, prospective teachers trickled into the Alvarado Adult School to take part in a West Contra Costa Unified School District teacher recruitment fair.

The fair, the first of several this year, attracted over 50 applicants in three hours. Most arrived early, though some filtered in steadily until the event ended at noon. A team of administrators worked to smoothly guide people through the application process, from registration—more than half had appointments, many walked in—to finding the right interviewer among a maze of wooden desks.

There were roughly 15 interviewers, including principals, vice principals and other officials who represented schools and subject areas from across the district. Available positions include those in special education, languages, English and math; district officials are also looking for counselors, librarians and psychologists, according to a press release.

According to Assistant Superintendent Ken Whittemore, the turnout at this event was higher than in prior years. He said that a major reason for the spike in interest was an upcoming 15 percent teacher pay raise, which was passed by the school board in June. The raise, when implemented, will take district teachers from among the lowest paid in Contra Costa County to the highest.

Though the raise also resulted in $12.5 million in cuts to the district budget, it may lead to a higher teacher retention rate—historically an issue within the district. New teachers require resources to train, and school culture can be negatively affected by the turbulence of constant staff turnover. Three years ago, the district was hiring more than 200 new teachers annually, according to a press release.

Eric Mapes, an assistant principal at El Cerrito High School, was one of the interviewers. Though it was his first time volunteering to interview at a recruitment fair, he praised the process and said he’d enjoyed talking with the prospective teachers.

Mapes compared a school staff to a family. He said it’s sometimes difficult to tell if someone fits unless you meet them in person, and he was happy to see the passion applicants had for working in the district. “People are here because they want to be here,” Mapes said. “That’s what you want.”

Mathias Armstrong, a graduate of the John F Kennedy School of Law, was among the applicants. Armstrong said he arrived right at 9 A.M., when the venue opened. After a series of interviews, he’d been offered a job.

Though he said it was too soon to talk about the offer, Armstrong said he was happy, and that he felt the process had been very efficient. He said the chance to interview in person played to his strengths. “It was a hell of a lot better than looking at job boards,” Armstrong said.

Rocio Reyes, an assistant principal at Richmond High School, was also an interviewer. She said that one difference she noticed from previous fairs was there seemed to be more people from the local community interviewing. She said she liked this shift—two of the most important questions, to her, come as pair: “why do you want to teach?” and “why do you want to teach in West Contra Costa?” According to her, the personal connection locals may have to their community can go far in satisfying the second question.

Reyes also said that she enjoyed hearing about the skills of her interview subjects in non traditional academic fields. Richmond High school, she said, gives a lot of attention to growing its various professional academies, which provide classes to help students develop skills in media, law, and engineering, among others.

“We want people to come in and bring the skills that students need to be successful,” Reyes said.

Lanre Ajayi, the Early Learning Program Coordinator for the district, was also among the interviewers. Though each interviewer had been provided with a rubric of questions to ask, Ajayi also had her own list which gauges suitability for teaching young children. For early childhood teaching specifically, Ajayi said, an ability to cooperate with other teachers is a vitally important trait.

She also said that she liked meeting applicants in person because it allowed her to understand the passion of the applicants, what it is that drives them to want to teach.

“I think it’s a good way of screening out the best of the best because our kids really need it,” Ajayi said. “Half of teaching is passion.”

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